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Macbeth and Inferno

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The poem Inferno is about a man who has “lost the path that does not stray” (Inferno, Canto I, line 3) where “the path” represents the path to Heaven. Dante, having strayed from the path, is in danger of being sent to Hell. When Beatrice, whom Dante loved before her early death, finds out that Dante has strayed she becomes worried that he will not be able to join her in Heaven. Beatrice wants to help Dante find God again, but because she is an angel, she cannot walk through Hell or Purgatory and in her stead she asks the Roman poet Virgil to guide Dante on a cautionary trip. Much the way Dante travels through Hell in the Divine Comedy, Macbeth must endure the consequences of his actions. The intervention of Beatrice draws parallels to the actions of Lady Macbeth.

The influence of women in both poems is very important to the story and is very prevalent. While the role of the two women differ greatly in each poem, their centrality to the progression of the story remains the same. In Macbeth, Lady Macbeth was only interested in the power to be gained by killing the king “I have given suck, and know…. As you have done to this.” (Macbeth, Act I, scene vii) But in the Divine Comedy, Beatrice intervenes in order to save Dante’s soul from eternal punishment “From all that I have heard of him in Heaven/he is, I fear, already so astray/ that I have come to help him much too late.” (Inferno, Canto II, line 64). If Lady Macbeth had not intervened Macbeth most likely would not have killed Duncan. Macbeth shows this through the quote “I dare do all that may become a man/ Who dares do more, is none”, meaning that he has done everything that an honourable man would do but anyone who does more than that is not a true man. The opposite occurs in the Divine Comedy, where Beatrice’s intervention leads to Dante’s salvation. While both women intervened they had opposite effects on the characters they influenced. Beatrice influenced Virgil in order to save Dante’s soul, while Lady Macbeth convinced Macbeth to kill the king for personal gain.

In Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth, the character of Macbeth starts with only good intentions but becomes corrupted by his wife who manages to convince him to act on prophecy, leading him to kill the king. Lady Macbeth at first has to push Macbeth to kill the king whereas, in Inferno, Dante becomes progressively closer to God and moral rightness. Dante’s character has to overcome his immorality by accepting God’s retribution and no longer pitying the damned. The character Dante at first pities the dead; the poem shows this as a misunderstanding as Hell was created as a means of balance. Sinners are punished in direct proportion to their sins and thus while some of the punishments may seem incredibly harsh the souls of the damned should never be given pity. Dante eventually overcomes this pity and these sentiments are encouraged by Virgil. This development is perfectly shown when Dante is talking to Fra Alberigo who asks Dante to open his eyes so he may weep and Dante does not because “I did not open them—for to be rude/ To such a one as him was courtesy.” This is part of Dante’s necessary first step in overcoming sin and embracing God.

It isn’t just women who influence the characters though, it’s also the supernatural. In Macbeth the three witches open the poem with the famous quote “Fair is foul and foul is fair” (Act I, Scene I Line 11) which means that everything will be reversed. Things that are good will become evil and evil things become good. This witches can be connected to Inferno in two ways, in both poems the main character in manipulated by supernatural forces. Macbeth by the witches and Dante by Beatrice and Virgil. The witches quote mentioned earlier can be connected to Inferno as well, Dante has “lost the path that does not stray” (Inferno, Canto I, line 3) or has become sinful, or bad. This becomes reversed after the supernatural forces of the poem have finished, in Inferno Dante’s morality is reversed for the better and in Macbeth the forces of the supernatural manipulate Macbeth and corrupt him causing him to become evil.

The two poems are almost complete opposites. In Macbeth the protagonist, Macbeth, advances to power through murder, progressively becoming more evil, or sinful, in nature. Macbeth moves progressively farther from God and moral rightness, the opposite of Dante both in character and development. Macbeth begins as an honourable man who wants to serve his King and country but eventually becomes a traitor to his benefactor which, in the terms of Inferno, would place him in the ninth circle of Hell, along with Lucifer, Brutus, Judas and Cassius. Dante begins as a man who is off the moral path and later becomes closer to God. Macbeth’s wife manipulates and pressures Macbeth into becoming the King through assassination. While in Inferno Dante progressively becomes less evil and closer to God by traveling through Hell and eventually stops pitying the souls of the damned and actually begins condemning them. His departed love, Beatrice, asks Virgil the Roman poet in the first circle of Hell to guide Dante back to God.

Inferno is a story of becoming close to God once again for an Italian poet in the 1300s. Macbeth is the story of a good man becoming corrupted by power and greed. One is a story of a man once again finding faith in God and becoming closer to him, while the other is of a man losing his faith and becoming farther from God. In both the main character is influenced by a woman in, or who had been, in his life and both were influenced by the spiritual world in the form of witches and an angel. Inferno is the anti-Macbeth, Dante is manipulated by the supernatural for good, he goes from bad to good, and is influenced by a woman for the betterment of his soul. Macbeth experiences manipulation at the hands of women and supernatural forces but they all make him a worse person, and he starts out with the right morality and ends up a traitor to his benefactor – Duncan – which is the most severe sin according to Inferno.

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